This is a conversation I had with my kids in the car yesterday afternoon as we ran errands. I wish I could have recorded it because it’s a very typical conversation in our house and I feel like it’s a good example of how easy it is to talk to kids about LGBT issues. I’m recording it here as close to verbatim as possible.
Nikki (age 8): Mom…what do you call people like us? People who don’t mind if gay people get married?
Me: Um…I think people say they’re “LGBT Allies” – there’s actually an organization I think called “Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays”.
Nikki: What does LGBT mean?
Me: L is Lesbian, and G is Gay. You know what those two mean…
Wesley (age 5): ELLEN IS A LESBIAN! Right?
Me: Yep…Ellen Degeneres is a lesbian with a wife named Portia. Anyway…B is for Bisexual. I’m not sure if we’ve talked about that one. You know how Gays and Lesbians want to marry people the same gender as they are? Bisexuals don’t care WHAT gender you are! They are attracted to boys AND girls. I think they’re the luckiest, personally, because they have more people to choose from when looking for someone to love!
Nikki: YEAH. They do! They get twice as many options!
Me: Exactly! Now…T is a little trickier to explain. A Transgender person is basically a person who’s heart and body don’t match. They might have been born with a penis but in their heart they feel like a girl. They might have been born with a vagina but in their heart they feel like a boy. It’s a tough thing because it may take until they’re adults to really understand their feelings. A lot of times they just feel…wrong…growing up. But once they realize they’re a transgender person, they will usually try to re-define themselves. They’ll change their name, they’ll dress differently. If they can afford it they’ll take medicines or have surgeries to help make what’s on the outside match what’s on the inside.
Wesley: That would be embarrassing. The be a boy born with a vagina!
Me: Well…that’s kind of the problem they face. They struggle with how to live when their body doesn’t match their heart. They have to talk to their families about it and if they decide to live the life that matches their heart…their families all have to change the way they look at them. So, it takes a really supportive family to help someone during those times. I hope if any of your friends or your family ever talk to you about wanting to change the way they live their lives, you’ll still love them the same. That would be such a hard thing to go through.
Nikki: Are they gay?
Me: Man, Nikki. You are asking questions that just don’t have easy answers. Basically, once someone re-defines themselves to match their heart, you no longer thing of them as the way they were born. So…if we had a friend Bob who decided he was actually born with a female heart and that he would be happier living as a female…we would start calling him by his new name…Betty. From that day on, SHE would always be BETTY. We would NEVER use the word “he” or “him” again because she would be BETTY who is a girl. Sometimes it takes a while to get used to it, but we would because we love Betty, right? So…Betty could like girls (which would make her gay) or she could like boys (which would make her NOT gay) but it would have nothing to do with her body. Does that make sense?
Nikki: Kinda. So, if Betty liked boys, she would not be gay? Even though she has a penis?
Me: Exactly. That’s why Betty would probably take steps to take medicine and surgeries to make her body more female. Because it would make dating boys easier for her because she would look like a girl everywhere. But until then, she would need to tell every boy she wanted to date about her body, which would be hard on her. She could sign up to Transgender Dating so that each person she was interacting with already knew about her situation. Transgender Males and Females have a very tough time in everything when they’re “transitioning” which is when you kinda decide to live your life to match your HEART and not your BODY. LGBT dating safety is a big issue in society so it’s important to learn about it.
Nikki: Can they get married to whoever they want?
Me: That’s really tricky. It depends on how far along the transition process they are, and whether they identify as gay or not. I’m not sure how to explain that in an easy way. Let’s just say that they face a lot of struggles that relate to gay rights, even if they don’t identify as gay.
Nikki: Do people my age do that? Change how they live?
Me: I think there are some kids who feel like they were born in the wrong bodies at your age, but I think most parents and doctors encourage kids to wait until they go through puberty to really try to understand their bodies. Puberty is when your body starts acting like an adult body and produces a lot more hormones – which are the things that sometimes affect how you feel about your body and other people. Like, right now you probably don’t think about kissing boys every day, but when you go through puberty you probably will. Unless you’re gay, then you’ll think about kissing girls all the time. Puberty tends to kinda push you more solid into how your going to feel as an adult, so it’s sometimes easier to understand how you’re going to want to live and date – AFTER your body settles down with all of those new hormones. So, some kids might feel gay or transgender but doctors and parents will just help them and talk to them about that usually through puberty so they can get a better feel of their body. And sometimes people don’t really understand their body until they’re adults! Because if they’re raised to think being gay or transgender is wrong then they may be spending their lives trying to ignore those feelings. You all know that if you ever decide you’re gay or born in the wrong body, that you can talk to us about it and we won’t care. But if we thought gays or transgenders were sinners, you might try to ignore those feelings forever because you’d worry we’d hate you.
Nikki: I don’t think I’ll be gay. I like boys too much.
Wesley: I’m not gay because I have a girlfriend.
Me: And that’s great. And if it stays that way you all will have easier roads ahead. But if you change your mind? You just tell us and it won’t matter. And hopefully, by the time you’re old enough to get married, it won’t matter anywhere. You can get married to anyone you want anywhere you want.
Nikki: Yeah…can we get cinnamon bread?
And that’s how it ended in the Domino’s parking lot. No big deal.